County School Superintendent reveals “Project X,” talks school safety and facility improvements to come from new sales tax

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CCBOE Superintendent Shane Barnette explains the features of the proposed multi-use indoor complex.

CULLMAN – On Tuesday afternoon, Cullman County Board of Education (CCBOE) Superintendent Shane Barnette revealed “Project X” as a multi-use sports and event venue to be located in Cullman, on Hwy 157 near its intersection with I-65. The facility will be located behind Warehouse Discount Groceries, on land donated to the CCBOE by Roy Drinkard. The new county half-cent sales tax, along with lodging tax money contributed by the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, will help fund the project which is projected to reach $30 million.

Barnette explained that the project “has been developed to support all of our students, towns, and cities.  This is a true investment in the future of our students with a self-sustaining business plan that will generate revenue to be used on our current campuses for years to come.

“This is so much more than another sports facility. We will incorporate opportunities for our students in the areas of the arts, summer camps, classes, corporate conventions; as well as football, basketball, tennis, soccer, cross country, track, band, theatre, volleyball, archery, and dance/cheer competitions.”

The facility will include a stadium for football, soccer, and outdoor track events; as well as three indoor collegiate basketball courts that can be sectioned into eight high school courts with seating for up to 3,000, and a separate gym with a movable stage and seating for 1,400. 

When not in use for school functions, the complex will host sports tournaments, conventions, and conferences to generate self-sustaining revenue.

Barnette had words of praise for Drinkard and his staff, telling the assembled crowd, “Roy Drinkard, as I said, has donated the land for us; and his Drinkard Development team, which consists of Judy White and Jason Grimmett, have been instrumental in this. Jason has come alongside me and saw the dream for this, and caught the vision, and knows it’s something worthy of investing in. So let’s let them know we appreciate them.”

Barnette also recognized Heather Wright from the Small Business Development Center, who is developing a business plan for the complex. The project is estimated to be capable of generating 10-12 million dollars per year in revenue.

The Superintendent also commended his board, saying, “Any time we dream, any time we think of outside the box things, of something we haven’t always done, there’s going to be criticism.  And I highly expect there’s going to be criticism on this, too; that’s okay. But I want to commend our school board for thinking, not about today, but about what could be down the road. And that’s what we’re dreaming about, and that’s what we’re planning for.”

CCBOE hopes to begin construction in the next year and estimates that the project will take 24 months to complete.

After the meeting, Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce President Leah Bolin issued this statement:

“The Chamber is extremely excited to be a part of ‘Project X’ with Cullman County Schools, now known as the Cullman County Sports Complex. People want affordable, sustainable growth that helps increase their property values, elevate their school programs and provide them with the quality of life amenities they deserve. This is just another way the Chamber — as a private business entity — can help decrease the cost burden of a community project while also providing new dollars that will help support our existing business.”

School safety and current facilities addressed

Barnette also talked about the use of the half-cent sales tax to address issues with school safety/security and upgrading existing facilities.

Safety measures the Superintendent hopes to see include:

  • campus security video cameras integrated into a central site, to allow local administrators, central office staff, and emergency responders to be able to pinpoint the location of trouble on campuses
  • additional fencing
  • additional School Resource Officers at larger campuses, especially those that are shared by elementary, middle and high schools
  • more controlled entryways at schools
  • a secure visitor check-in system that can run instant background checks from a photo ID
  • an improved emergency alert system and better means of communication between teachers, administrators, the central office, and emergency responders

Projected improvements to local school facilities include:

  • West Point lunchroom expansion and renovation
  • completion of lunchroom updates at Holly Pond and Cold Springs
  • two additional classrooms and a new Home Economics building at Holly Pond High School
  • a greenhouse at Harmony School
  • repaving on multiple campuses
  • replacing all window air conditioners in the district with central units
  • renovating or building a new facility for the Cullman Area Technology Academy (CATA)

Barnette gave special emphasis to CATA, speaking also about a study being conducted to improve the career center’s curriculum, saying, “We want to know what jobs are out there now, and what jobs are going to be out there in the next five to ten years, that we need to prepare our kids for, to go out there and get those jobs.  o that may mean that we change some of the programs that we currently offer, it may mean that we need to renovate some of those shops, it may mean that we need to build on–add additional buildings, to add shops.”